Coca-Cola On How Brand Story Shapes Brand Leadership

Tom LaForge, Global Director of Human & Cultural Insights at the Coca-Cola Company, sat down with us after speaking at our 2013 Brand Leadership Summit and took us deeper into the ideal that brand story shapes brand leadership, and how today’s biggest corporations have the best chance to drive social change on a global scale.

What does the role of Global Director of Human & Cultural Insights entail? Tom looks at different cultures and societies to find out what they both want and need, and then brings that information back to the company to dissect and connect the data. This is crucial, especially considering the Coca-Cola Company has over one hundred brands spread throughout the world offering not only soft drinks, but also juices, waters, teas, and coffees.

Is there an overriding story that binds all the different Coca-Cola products? Coca-Cola is focused on sharing and togetherness and Tom paraphrased the following Andy Warhol quote which speaks to the egalitarian view that runs through the company:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” –Andy Warhol

As well, the Coca-Cola Company has a program called “Me, We, The World.” This paradigm is used across all the different brands under Coca-Cola’s umbrella and asks three key questions. How do we help the personal well-being of families? How do we help the well-being of communities? and How do we help at a large scale, involving the natural environment?

How does marketing and sustainability work together to further Coke’s brand story? Coca-Cola focuses on many impact programs and one of the most popular is their 5by20 plan. The goal is to empower five million women to start their own businesses by 2020. It’s incredible to consider how impactful five million new entrepreneurs will be and learning directly from these female leaders is key to Coke’s goals for a more sustainable environment.

The future of purposeful business models Tom points out that while many brands still come from the older thought process looking for the best, and quickest way to make a profit, more and more companies are considering the social and environmental impact as a starting point as they put together their business plans. For example, one of the leading companies in the sustainability field is TOMS, who has mastered the art of “one-for-one” (every time someone purchases a pair of their shoes, the company donates another pair to those less fortunate) and Tom believes that this way of sustainable and accountable thinking will become more prevalent as time goes on.

Coca-Cola is positioning itself, along with other forward-thinking companies both small and large, to push the perception of sustainability from a just a “nice to have” to an integral part of the brand story that drives each and every business decision. Which brands do you think are doing a good job of telling their company purpose through their brand story?

Join us Oct 7-8 at the 2014 We First Brand Leadership Summit for two days of hands-on training on how to define, frame and share a brand story through social marketing that empowers your company to lead business, drive sales, and shape culture.